Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation spoke at an adult faith Encounter Dessert Night in Saskatoon, where Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen, pictured, reads the words of Delorme printed on a t-shirt. Photo by Tim Yaworski, Catholic Saskatoon News

New paths sought in reconciliation walk

By  Kiply Lukan Yaworski, Canadian Catholic News
  • May 13, 2022

Chief Cadmus Delorme of Cowessess First Nation and Regina Archbishop Donald Bolen have been walking together for some time now — including through the work of ground-penetrating radar and finding 751 hits near a former Catholic-run residential school on Cowesses First Nation east of Regina in the summer of 2021.

“It took the validation of unmarked graves that put us in this moment,” said Delorme at the “Walking With Your Neighbour” Dessert Night event in Saskatoon April 28.

It was the discoveries of unmarked graves across Canada a year ago that has led to millions of Canadians putting down their “shields” and admitting they did not know the truth about Indigenous peoples and Canada.

“We are truly at a moment where all of us — Indigenous and not — must all reset our compass just a little bit  because our children and children yet unborn depend upon this moment. We could look the other way and stay with the status quo … but the status quo doesn’t work,” said Delorme.

Both leaders brought insights and suggestions for “Walking With Your Neighbour” to the 250-plus who gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Family.

“We need to find ways to work together and we need to build relationships as we do that. So much is dependent on relationship,” stressed Bolen, who recently accompanied the Indigenous delegation from Canada that met with Pope Francis in Rome and heard the Holy Father’s April 1 apology to Indigenous peoples.

Bolen stressed the importance of finding a new way of walking together and coming to a new understanding of the truth of Canadian history.

“The conversation starts to open up between the Church and Indigenous peoples when we acknowledge the profound suffering, the waves of suffering that so many Indigenous peoples have experienced in the context of residential schools, and more broadly in the context of the Indian Act and colonization,” said Bolen. “We need to acknowledge our responsibility as Church for our involvement in these schools, that took away language and culture and spirituality and suppressed so many good things.”

He pointed to the direct line from that history to the inter-generational trauma that many Indigenous individuals, families and communities carry, urging his listeners to acknowledge and understand the connection between the many challenges that Indigenous peoples face today and the legacy of residential schools and colonization.

“When we look at our society today and look at societal indicators of well-being, we see the systemic injustice that is still part of our society, that still creates waves of suffering,” he said. “We see the inequalities in access to education and health, the levels of poverty. We see the inter-generational trauma and its effects when we look at the incarceration rates… we need to see that direct line to the causes of that trauma and we need to be actively taking responsibility.”

This includes the step of apologies — including the recent apology by Pope Francis, and waiting for him to come to this land to apologize, said Bolen, but also “when we as non-Indigenous people talk to survivors, and hear them tell their stories, when we hear those experiences of deep trauma… we need to engage in that apology ourselves.”

More importantly will be the question of “what happens the day after the apology,” said Bolen, citing words of Delorme.

“That is where we need to take new steps. That is where we need to take our remorse, our solidarity, and take tangible steps. And that is where we need to enter into a dialogue with survivors; that is where we need to ask them for direction; that is where we need to enter into dialogue with elders, with leaders in the Indigenous community, with youth — we need to say ‘How can we walk
together?’ ”

Acknowledging the error and damage of the Church’s participation in the suppression of Indigenous language and spirituality, Bolen emphasized the need to support Indigenous peoples in their efforts to reclaim and strengthen those languages that hold culture, teachings and tradition, and to profoundly respect Indigenous spirituality and traditions as “invitations to encounter the Creator in a beautiful way.”

Bolen’s final suggestion for a step to take on the walk involved the upcoming visit of the Pope.

“We need to find ways to actively engage and to make the Pope’s visit as powerful as possible.”

For his part, Delorme said there is an “uncomfortable conversation” that needs to be had.

“We inherited this. Nobody in the room created residential schools. Nobody in this room created the Indian Act,” said Delorme. “Nobody in this room created the Sixties Scoop. … But we inherited it. And when you inherit something, you have to do something about it.

“Truth and reconciliation is a term we use … we cannot move to reconciliation until we first acknowledge and know the truth. And then we get to reconciliation. Reconciliation is going to come with a lot of uncomfortable conversations.”

More Canadians are now focused on the truth, he said. “Yes, acknowledge the land… but follow up with something you are doing for truth and reconciliation.”

This country has the 94 Calls to Action, gleaned when over 100,000 residential school survivors told what had been kept buried for decades, he said, and can also heed the calls to justice for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, the recommendations of so many studies and commissions, and the recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples.

“It is like a golf game — everything is all teed up,” he said. “Let’s invest in both communities. In one generation we will be standing in a room talking about true parity.”

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